UK’s biggest defence investment since Cold War, to combine cyber operations of UK military and intelligence in one unified command
The Government has confirmed that the United Kingdom will increase its defence spending by £16.5bn in extra money over four years.
This is the UK’s biggest increase in defence spending since the Cold War, and the new cash will be used to create a “National Cyber Force” that will bolster the UK’s cyber capabilities to protect UK.
It comes after Ciaran Martin, the former boss of the UK’s cyber guardian, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), recently urged government restraint over its cyber offensive capabilities.
National Cyber Force
In cyber-space Martin warned that a strong defence should take precedence over arming ourselves with new weapons.
But now the government has confirmed the creation of a ‘National Cyber Force’ (NCF), which will be a partnership between the British military and GCHQ.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his speech on defence spending, avowed the GCHQ and Ministry of Defence (MoD) partnership which is conducting cyber operations to disrupt hostile state activities, terrorists and criminals threatening the UK’s national security.
The idea is that the NCF will work alongside GCHQ’s NCSC, which protects the digital homeland, although this co-operation between the military and GCHQ has been ongoing for a while now.
The government says that the NCF will play a vital role in enhancing the UK’s world-leading and responsible cyber power.
According to the government, the NCF will gather personnel from intelligence, GCHQ, the MoD, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) under one unified command for the first time.
The government cited typical NCF activities such as interfering with a mobile phone to prevent a terrorist from being able to communicate with their contacts; helping to prevent the internet from being used as a global platform for serious crimes; and keeping UK military aircraft safe from targeting by hostile weapons systems.
“For over a century, GCHQ has worked to keep the UK safe,” noted director GCHQ Jeremy Fleming. “Cyber security has become an integral part of this mission as we strive to make the UK the safest place to live and do business online. We are a world-leading cyber power.”
“Today the National Cyber Force builds out from that position of defensive strength,” Fleming added. “It brings together intelligence and defence capabilities to transform the UK’s ability to contest adversaries in cyber space, to protect the country, its people and our way of life.”
“Working in close partnership with law enforcement and international partners, the National Cyber Force operates in a legal, ethical and proportionate way to help defend the nation and counter the full range of national security threats,” he added.
The British military also noted this combination of expertise.
“Just over 100 years ago we created a new force to defend the UK from threats in a new domain – the air,” said General Sir Patrick Sanders of Strategic Command (the MoD’s cyber operation).
“Today’s announcement of the formation of the National Cyber Force to defend the UK in cyberspace marks a similar milestone and the imperative is just as vital because cyberspace is the most contested domain where our adversaries and our allies will meet over the next decade and beyond,” said the General.
“The National Cyber Force is a joint Defence and GCHQ capability, giving the UK a world class ability to conduct cyber operations,” added Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
“The NCF is bolstering our global presence in the cyber domain, and it is a clear example of how we are turning our ambitious agenda to modernise defence into a reality,” said Wallace.
The announcement of the NCF drew reaction from security professionals.
“The threat of cyber warfare has been growing rapidly over recent years and this announcement is a welcome sign that the UK Government is recognising the paramount importance of having a cyber security strategy and appropriate tools in place,” said Stuart Reed, UK director at Orange Cyberdefense.
“As well has having a robust physical defense force, the UK must be able to protect itself and adapt to the swiftly evolving cyber threat landscape,” said Reed. “Every year we see increasing numbers of high profile cyber attacks from threat actors both in and out of the UK.”
“While many organisations and individuals have taken steps to protect themselves and their digital assets, the UK’s defense proposition has been in dire need of modernisation,” said Reed. “In order to protect our fast growth digital economy we are at a point where a layered approach of people, process and tech is require in order to protect the country with a scalable, reliable and robust cyberdefense. This investment underlines the important work already underway by many credible cyber organisations in the UK, and strengthens the country for the continuing challenges ahead.”
Another expert also agreed this is a positive development to protect UK infrastructue.
“It is really positive to see the UK government acknowledging cybersecurity as a significant enough concern to continue with these large investments in its cyber activity,” said Francis Gaffney, Director of threat intelligence & response at Mimecast.
“As President George Washington said, sometimes offense really is the best form of defence and it is certain that this investment could act as a deterrent to threat actors,” said Gaffney.
“At Mimecast, our latest threat report observed a total number of 163.92 million attacks in the last month, taking the total number of attacks in 2020 past the one billion mark,” he said. “This is almost certainly a result of the pandemic and many UK organisations working remotely in such a volume for the first time, leaving many of them potentially more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.”
“This initiative will also have a positive impact on the overall cyber hygiene level of citizens and organisations of the UK, as it further elevates the cybersecurity threat and keeps it at the forefront of the thoughts of the British public,” Gaffney concluded. “I definitely welcome the continued interest and funding of the UK’s cyber-defences. Long may it continue.”